Failure and Practice

The moments of recognition of failure are the practice.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and teacher of meditation, shared that thought. It resonates with me because even though Harris was talking about meditation, he could be referring to any skill we hope to acquire.

When your mind is wandering during meditation, you don’t know that your mind has wandered. It’s only when you realize you have “failed” that you get to practice bringing your mind back and clearing it again. 

I’ve been thinking, writing, and coaching about intentional communication for fifteen years. It is still very much a practice, meaning that I fail and recognize these failures every day. My default intentions break through: I shut someone down, I don’t listen, I fail to clarify, I push my own agenda, and I don’t speak when I should.

In my best moments, I catch myself in the act of failing. I can adjust course and apologize if I need to. That’s the practice. 

At other times, I’m less aware, and my mind serves these failures up for me to review hours or even days later. I can still learn from them, but my opportunity to practice in the moment is lost.

At still other times, I’m sure, I miss the moment of recognition altogether. Blissfully unaware of my mistakes, I can’t work on them. They don’t become part of my practice.

I’m the first to say that it doesn’t feel good to fail. But the knowledge that recognizing the failure is an essential part of my practice, that every time I see my mistake is a step toward not making it again, helps me reframe the experience to one of ongoing learning.

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